Tandoori chicken, kabab, malai boti, daal channa, nihari and butter chicken.
These are some of the traditional Pakistani foods you can find in the expansive menu at Zaika Biryani House.
Despite serving food embraced by South Asian customers, restaurant owner Sharjeel Husainy wants all Calgarians to try the cuisine.
Husainy opened Zaika Biryani House in 2009, after earning a master’s degree in business administration and gaining experience in the printing and fast food industries. The latter helped Husainy decide his next business venture.
“If you have a restaurant, you have an open field to play,” Husainy says.
Husainy recalls how unpopulated the Pakistani restaurant scene was when Zaika Biryani House opened.
“I think there [were] only four restaurants at that time, in Calgary in 2009, and we are the fourth one,” Husainy says. “And now, Alhamdulillah [Praise be to God], we are the only one who [ran] in the same management for the last 10 years with the same people.”
Husainy credits the success of Zaika Biryani House to the practical experience he has gained.
“Honestly, when you start the business, you don’t know a lot of things, but once you are in the business, you learn a lot,” Husainy explains.
Husainy feels confident running a Pakistani-style eatery due to his connection with the traditional food.
“Everyone has bondings [with] their culture,” Husainy says. “I grew up in Pakistan [and] when I moved here, I was young… but still, I have memories from back home.”
Husainy notes that he is often motivated by the nostalgia of his childhood food in Pakistan.
“Suppose nihari, I was eating nihari from that place, oh that was good.”
Husainy is referring to a warm and hearty stew rich in meat content, with a spicy aroma and a thickness too great to be considered a soup. Nihari is a national favorite in Pakistan, but it’s also popular at Zaika Biryani House, with many clients dining for the signature dish.
Usyaid Aslam, a customer who dines at the restaurant once a week, agrees that the restaurant captures the feeling of his home country.
“If I went back to Pakistan, it would be like eating here,” Aslam says. “It brings back memories of my home.”
Husainy is appreciative of his heritage, as it paved the way to Zaika Biryani House. He has always dreamed of opening a business but only felt comfortable doing so with knowledge.
“My dad always [told] me, OK, you don’t need to ride on that horse if you don’t know how to ride it,” Husainy says. “So just be careful while you’re doing anything. First, you have to know how to do that thing.”
Husainy feels confident that all Calgarians will enjoy the food, and this is reflected in the targeted clientele.
“Our point is not to be focused on one community,” Husainy says. “[We] just target the whole Calgary, so that [is why] we are in the center of the city right now.”
Zaika Biryani House is located on 5th Avenue NE and 33rd Street NE, which Husainy chose in hopes of attracting non-Pakistani customers.
Husainy knew his goal to target all of Calgary would be baffling to some, but after a decade in business, he believes he made the right decision.
“When we started, the people [didn’t] know what the Pakistani taste feels like or smells like,” Husainy says. “By the time, they realize, ‘Okay, yeah, this is a different taste’ and after that…‘We need this taste,’ so they come back again and again.”
“Now we introduce our Pakistani culture, our taste to the new communities.”
Husainy recalls how this created some challenges for him in the initial stages.
“When we started, yeah, we had a difficult time,” Husainy says.
“We just [changed] the recipes as per the customers’ requirements but later on, we [realized] that… that’s not a good idea, and that’s not the way to run the business.”
Husainy believes the decision to appeal to all Calgarians allowed him to gain more confidence as a restaurant owner.
“It’s not possible to satisfy all the people at the same time,” Husainy says. “So we just [established] our recipes once, and [introduced them] to the whole city, and now, Alhamdulillah, they come back again and again, and they like it.”
Rehana Muhammed, a chef at Zaika Biryani House, feels that customers are immediately attracted to the restaurant.
“Everybody [comes] here and they have good food, good price,” Muhammed says. “And they get good service, I think this is the most important thing.”
Husainy would love for every Calgarian to try his food, but when it comes to his dreams for Zaika Biryani House, this is only the beginning.
“Now we are [looking for places] outside Calgary, like Edmonton, Saskatchewan, Vancouver,” Husainy says. “We are planning to expand our business, so this is the passion.”